National CCDC

Where Education.......

.......Meets Operation

Cyber Competitions Prepare the Cyber Security Professionals of Tomorrow

By Bob Bunge, Associate Professor,

College of Engineering and Information Sciences, DeVry University

 The Battle of Waterloo, as the saying goes, was truly won “on the playing fields of Eton.” In our current digital age, our best and brightest young defenders are testing their mettle on the virtual playing fields of cyber sport. Cyber competitions are the warrior games of the networked era — but instead of throwing javelins, racing chariots, or wrestling to the death, today’s competitors exercise modern combat skills like firewall configuration, malware detection, file restoration, and strong user authentication. Success and failure for these high-tech warriors has direct parallels to the experiences of soldiers on historical battlefields – hold the line or lose your country.

 In fact, as a country we are coming to understand how important it is that we train real-world and high-tech warriors.  With Congress currently debating the best approach to cyber security, it is clearly urgent that we quickly learn how to safeguard our virtual information.  Anyone who has suffered identity theft can attest:  as a nation, as individuals, we need protection from crime and espionage online.

 And who will provide this protection?  Today’s youth — the very warriors who are engaged in learning through cyber sport.  You’ll find these warriors doing battle on such playing fields as  National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, the United States’ Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot, the U.S. Cyber Challenge, and the Global CyberLympics.  Such landmark events are raising national awareness about the need for increased education and ethical understanding within the field of information security.  And these events also offer the perfect environment for students to put the theories and skills they have learned in their coursework to practical use.

 As a professor at DeVry University and its Keller Graduate School of Management, I have experienced firsthand the important impact of cyber security competitions — as a training ground for future warriors and as a training ground for a career field.  Our government, military, and business employers desperately need an elite band of digital defenders.  DeVry University’s Cyber Defense Club can give any who might be called a taste of this action, and preparation for jobs to come.

A word of warning, though.  I’ve seen it time and again:  students who feel the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in cyber competitions cannot wait to climb back into the ring.  Being pounded by hackers over the course of a non-stop weekend, all the while being harassed by a fictional “boss” who demands impossible budget rewrites under ridiculous deadlines may not sound particularly fun. Our Cyber Defense Club trains relentlessly all year, however, just to have this opportunity. We wear team khakis, create a business, get overwhelmed by piles of work, see our systems destroyed, rebuild our systems for a better future, and generally have the time of our lives.

You may wonder – why would anyone spend a weekend like this without receiving any overtime compensation? Well, the career compensation to come is reward enough. I’ve witnessed corporate sponsors lurking at the edges of every contest, and Human Resources staff working the lunchroom. Ultimately, the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition had to pass a rule: no contract offers allowed until after the competition is over. Student-athletes were getting too distracted by recruiters. And still, we have trouble keeping DeVry University seniors on our team because they lose amateur status for their professional IT work prior to graduation.

This is a nice problem to have of course.  And as an added benefit, the cyber security playing field is widening.  In addition to my work with DeVry University’s Cyber Defense Club, I’m now mentoring local high school teams in CyberPatriot. But whether I’m coaching high school students getting ready for college, or college students getting ready for careers to come, I find myself often extending this reminder:  the skills we practice are not just a game.  In many ways, we play for our nation’s future.

Robert (Bob) Bunge is an associate professor in the College of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry University. He has nearly ten years of teaching experience in computer information systems, network security and simulation development. As a cyber security and cloud computing expert, Bunge has presented on various subjects at numerous events, including the NWSec Conference and the Washington Association for Skilled and Technical Sciences Conference. He has 5 years experience coaching and organizing PRCCDC.  

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